How to Cut Back on Sodium to Improve Your Health

As a clinical dietitian, I review how to cut back on sodium with my patients daily. However, our bodies need some sodium, at least 500 mg of sodium each day. The recommended amount of sodium to limit is 2,300 mg per day, but less than 1,500 mg to maintain good health for most adults. However, typically most people consume well above the minimum amount needed each day, about 3,400 mg per day! Wow! 

Sodium is a component of table salt, which is sodium chloride. Salt is added during the processing of many foods, so many processed foods are high in sodium. Sodium helps to keep foods shelf-stable and prevents spoiling. In addition, salt provides flavor or enhances the flavor of foods. 

So, what can be the effects of too much sodium? Why do we need to know how to cut back on sodium?

how to cut back on sodium, salt shaker

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), sodium helps our bodies control fluid balance, send nerve impulses, and affect muscle function. However, excessive sodium in your body attracts water into the bloodstream, increasing pressure inside the blood vessel. Over time, this stretches out the blood vessels or injures the walls of the blood vessels. Plaque then builds up inside the vessels and causes the heart to work harder to pump.  

High blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, so it is so important to go to the doctor regularly. High blood pressure can lead to kidney disease, strokes, heart attacks, or heart failure if uncontrolled or unmanaged. According to AHA, ninety percent of American adults develop high blood pressure during their lifetime. Sodium also causes bloating from fluid retention, leading to weight gain.

How to Cut Back on Sodium

So how do we reduce the risk of these diseases and maintain good blood pressure?

Well, let’s first start by identifying some foods that are typically known to be high in sodium. Then, if we know the high sodium foods, you can cut back on these foods to reduce your sodium intake.

how to cut back on sodium, bowl of cheddar potato chips

High Sodium Foods

  • Restaurant foods or fast food
  • Snack foods such as chips, pretzels, crackers
  • Canned foods and soups
  • Lunchmeats and cured meats
  • Packaged foods or prepared foods
  • Condiments such as ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, salad dressings

However, many of these foods typically have a low or lower sodium version. So check for one labeled low sodium next to it on the shelf in the grocery store.

Choose Low Sodium Foods

Fresh foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish are naturally low in sodium. So the more you replace the high sodium foods with fresh foods, your sodium intake will decrease. In addition, many fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood are also nutrient-dense!

Check Nutrition Labels for Sodium Content

Here are sodium-related terms you may see on food packages. These terms are labeled on foods and help you quickly find low or lower-sodium foods.

  • Sodium-free – Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride
  • Very low sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving
  • Low sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving
  • Reduced (or less) sodium – At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
  • Light (for sodium-reduced products) – If the food is “low calorie” and “low fat” and sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving
  • Light in sodium – If sodium is reduced by at least 50 percent per serving

Aim to choose foods with less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Anything above 300 mg of sodium per serving is considered a high sodium food.

Preparing Foods with Less Salt and Sodium

how to cut back on sodium, fresh baby spinach in a bowl

When you prepare and cook foods at home more often rather than eating restaurant foods, this can help you reduce your sodium intake. Choose low or no-sodium seasonings such as fresh or dried herbs, spices, onions, garlic, onion or garlic powder, lemon or lime juice, and vinegar to replace all or some salt. This can add a lot of flavor to your food and you won’t miss the salt.

Draining and rinsing canned beans and vegetables can reduce the sodium content by up to 40%. But also choose fresh or frozen vegetables (without added sauces) which are low in sodium. Also, some cooking methods bring out the flavor in foods, such as roasting, grilling, sautéing, braising, and searing.

If you need some low sodium ideas for breakfast, check out this post for Healthy Breakfast Ideas!

If you eat out at a restaurant…

There are ways to help you reduce your sodium intake when you eat out at a restaurant.

  • Ask for condiments and sauces on the side, then use just a little by dipping your utensil in the sauce with a bite of food
  • Also ask for no added salt, especially to certain foods that are typically salted such as fries
  • Look for words such as pickled, brined, cured, smoked, and barbequed which are high sodium food preparations
  • Choose foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted as these may have less sodium
  • Limit portions by sharing or only eating a small portion and bringing the leftovers home with you

Just one more thing to keep in mind…

If you are used to eating high sodium foods and adding salt to your food, your tastes will take some time to adjust. Food may seem to have less flavor as you decrease your sodium intake, but give it time. Then, once your tastes do adjust, you really won’t miss the salt. And when you do taste something with more salt, you will notice it!

More Nutrition Information to Check Out!

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